York City: Police union mulled retaliation against inspector after Swartz probe

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A motion filed in York County's civil court by the City of York claims the union that represents city officers considered retaliating against the internal-affairs inspector who investigated a fellow officer.

Inspector Michael Davis investigated claims that York City Police Officer Clayton Swartz and his then-fiancee's uncle, Christopher Owens, role-played the May 25 Minneapolis Police-custody death of George Floyd during a graduation party in the York City home of the fiancee's family.

Floyd died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn't breathe.

A Jan. 12 filing by York City states it learned the White Rose Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police "took steps to 'investigate' Inspector Davis' investigation of the complaints that he received" about the alleged incident.

"And the FOP may have also taken, or at least considered, sanctions or other retaliatory action against Inspector Davis for his investigation," the filing states, "including possible expulsion from the union."

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert, left, and Officer Clayton Swartz as officials investigate a fatal shooting reported near the corner of South West and West Princess Streets in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said the shooting resulted in the death of an adult male and an injured juvenile who was transported to York Hospital. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Davis is a member of FOP's White Rose Lodge and was its past president for a number of years. He declined comment.

Matt Irvin, president of the lodge, said the allegations aren't true.

"The lodge is not retaliating against Inspector Davis nor attempting to kick him out of the lodge," Irvin told The York Dispatch.

Cleared by trial board: A three-officer internal York City Police trial board cleared Swartz of wrongdoing on Sept. 10. Its decision came after a nine-hour hearing Aug. 19.

On Sept. 16, York City appealed the trial board's ruling to the York County Court of Common Pleas.

On Oct. 28, attorneys for York City tried to subpoena FOP documents.

More:Case remains in limbo against York City cop accused of mocking George Floyd's death

But Swartz's attorneys objected on a number of grounds, arguing in a Nov. 17 civil filing that the documents aren't relevant and would neither prove nor disprove anything.

Attorneys Ed Paskey and Doug France also objected to the city's proposed FOP subpoena because they maintain the trial-board decision was final and binding. Their position remains that a York County judge has no jurisdiction to intercede in the matter.

Attorneys Joe Rudolf and Kevin Levine, representing York City, argued in their motion that the documents are relevant "because they could shed light on whether the Swartz Trial Board, composed of FOP members and retirees, might be incapable of issuing an unbiased decision based upon the record before it."

More:York City appeals not-guilty finding for cop accused of reenacting George Floyd's death

More:Union: York officer 'proven' not guilty of mocking George Floyd's death, says city can't appeal

More:Trial board clears York City police officer of wrongdoing

York City's motion maintains the FOP subpoena was designed to yield documents "regarding a coordinated effort to punish Inspector Davis for investigating claims of misconduct against one of their members."

Subpoena a no-go: After a hearing Thursday morning that included oral arguments, presiding Common Pleas Judge Matthew D. Menges agreed with Swartz's attorneys and ruled that York City cannot subpoena FOP documents, according to York City solicitor Jason Sabol.

Swartz's attorneys, Paskey and France, did not return messages seeking comment on Thursday.

Swartz, who was 26 years old at the time of the party, remains on unpaid administrative leave, Sabol confirmed.

After the three-officer trial board cleared Swartz of wrongdoing, the White Rose FOP lodge filed a grievance against York City, demanding Swartz be reinstated with full back pay, according to court records. That grievance is still pending.

Whether a York County judge has jurisdiction to review the case remains unknown.

More:York City cop accused of acting out George Floyd's death at party

The background: Two of the three people who made the accusation against Swartz have confirmed that they weren't asked to attend or testify at the trial-board hearing, or even told about it by city officials. The third accuser could not be reached.

Swartz told an internal-affairs inspector he didn't reenact or mock Floyd's death, according to court documents. Owens told investigators and The York Dispatch that he made the comment "I can't breathe" while lying on a couch, but that Swartz — who was standing next to him — did nothing but "chuckle" in a placating way at Owens, who is biracial.

All three accusers told The York Dispatch they saw Swartz put his knee against Owens' neck and heard him ask Owens if he could breathe and if he was dead yet while Owens convulsed on the couch.

Both sides point to what they say are inconsistencies and issues regarding statements made by witnesses on the other side. 

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.